The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2011 issue.

…if we are to take into account some scenes, yes, one can say that Dusan Makavejev’s movie has a strange sweetness attached to it, but one that can easily deceive.

On the other hand however, its title is also an indicative that the film flirts very much with the idea of tasting something, which indeed happens.

The film opens with a strange Miss World contest, where models are prized according to their abstinence and virginity (we are in 1974, so this was a clear mark of a movie looking for trouble) and the prize is the hand of a very wealthy guy suggestively name “Mr. Dollars”).

This approach has strong Jodorowskian reminiscences by means of character depiction and straightforwardness (in terms of a satire) and it also kind of prefaces the films coordinates: powerful visuals, occasionally shocking scenes and a very vague narrative plot (outrageous in its own right).

Going back to the title, I said that the film deals very much with the idea of tasting things, actually it revolves more around this idea, than around anything else. One could observe that the film also satirizes various ideas, but the satire is never really powerful enough to stand on its own, and while there is a plot it is rather vague and implausible for the viewer to pay real attention to.

We have an organic film here, an organic film that seemingly celebrates insanity, but not as a pathological factor, nor as an equivalent of complete absolute chaos, but as a departure from a specific form, from certain patterns, rules. By subjecting the viewer to a succession of appalling, controversial scenes, scenes that however instill a sense of beauty, Makavejev challenges him to look past what is before his very eyes. People may get the wrong idea about the organic cinema: it is not about the flesh itself, but about the anatomy of things, about the way some things take place, it is less about meaning of something, but about the act itself. We are the ones who generally give meaning to things, and we will continue doing that with or without films, books, movies or paintings. This is why sometimes art doesn’t hold any true meaning, because it doesn’t need one.

Sometimes it is just about looking deeply, in detail, at something: examining a process under the microscope, and translate it into another environment, one where you would have the luxury of an even deeper and detailed sight.

I mentioned Jodorowsky earlier on, that is mostly because the character depictions and acting styles. In many cases the actors in Jodorowsky’s films – especially those dealing with smaller roles – deliver wooden, strange performances. In a way, they make sense, they are what I call mood performances, they exist not to serve themselves, but to create a mood. You can see that in Jodorowksy, you can see that here, in Lynch, sometimes in Greenaway even (and other directors as well).

Leaving this aside, this type of performances also pulls the movie further away from traditional cinema, where traditional implies balance. This film is not balanced, it was never intended to be. It goes as far as possible with its ideas, obsessions, insanity, too far maybe for his director’s own good, who started to immigrate afterwards. As for the film, it is needless to say that it stirred controversy, sometimes even considered as part of a plague or a social disease. But it is interesting to observe how these things lose meaning afterwards, how what used to be appalling, isn’t anymore.

If I were to see the movie back then, I might have been shocked as well, but now I wasn’t. I could hint the director’s ideas, I could even find some familiar ground and in some sense could flow with it. In the terms of the movie, what once used to be rotten, now became sweet or, at least, bearable. It is like a reverse of the common- sense. Time does not alter, but heals, or altering has a completely different meaning there. In an art-like logic, it would make sense. “Beautiful” is altered to “Ugly”, but “Ugly” does not become “Uglier”, but “Beautiful “. And while some scenes in Sweet Movie are anything but beautiful, one can really see that, they are not appalling

Returning to unconventionality, when we strip away a film of its conventions, we can focus better on things that lie beyond those conventions, we can see things in their wholesomeness, and we can also gaze at the symbols beneath them, as Julien Sardeau also noticed:

“With this cineaste of transgression, the imagination knows only two rules: Dyonisian pleasure in the poetic image, and absolute primacy of the material and the organic. So, in Sweet Movie, the symbolic and the literal are never dissociated. On the one hand, sugar is presented in a form that is purely organic, and in its multiple concrete representations, in the image of Descartes’ piece of wax. But on the other hand, Makavejev tells us “this is not sugar”, but a mirage of sweetness whose truth is in turn alienation (the consumer society) and a perverse and murderous ideological mystification (what the revolutionary ideal and the USSR became under Stalin). A veritable principle of montage, the passage between the literal and figurative registers can even take place from one shot to the next […] With Makavejev, poetic power is always expressed by the brutality of the relationship established between the symbol and the object to which it refers; the more immediate this relationship, the greater its stylistic

There is always an interesting thing to look at a film from a point that is unfamiliar, from beyond what we are taught or used to accept. It is very easy to dismiss this film as amateurish, repulsive or who-knows-whatelse. But what happens when we look at if though other lens? When we see those characters and human beings and we try to explore their eeriness, when murder isn’t murder and sugar isn’t just sugar. Like in fairy-tales.

Nowadays, I have to admit that Sweet Movie stroke me as familiar, because I have seen Jodorowsky, I know of John Waters, Kenneth Anger and I am quite familiar with various “underground” approaches.

This having been said, Sweet Movie is still a film to be watched with caution and still there are high chances it would appall the vast majority, but to those with a stomach for John Waters, Kenneth Anger, Jodorowsky and others alike would find this movie quite delicious.

Movie still: Sweet Movie. 1974.

by Shade

Full article here.